Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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March 8, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

THE LAST STRAW....This business of the forged documents that the U.S. and Britain have presented as evidence that Saddam was trying to buy uranium from Niger has gotten suprisingly little play in the American press. It hasn't been ignored or anything, and it's on the front pages of the three major dailies, but look at the actual headlines:

Only the Post clearly headlines the story. The LA Times headline refers to the generally weak quality of U.S. intelligence, not specifically to the faked documents, and the New York Times headline ignores it. (Oddly, the British press doesn't seem to do any better, with only the Guardian giving the story any play.)

Now, this doesn't (so far) appear to be a deliberate deception on the part of British or U.S. intelligence, but the real story might be even worse. Here's the Post's version:

The documents had been given to the U.N. inspectors by Britain and reviewed extensively by U.S. intelligence. The forgers had made relatively crude errors that eventually gave them away -- including names and titles that did not match up with the individuals who held office at the time the letters were purportedly written, the officials said.

"We fell for it," said one U.S. official who reviewed the documents.

So U.S. intelligence is so inept that even after "extensive" review they didn't realize that names on the documents didn't match up with the people who held office at the time? Information that's probably available with a simple Google search?

And as the LA Times story reports, all this comes on top of the fact that the UN inspectors have repeatedly followed U.S. intelligence leads in Iraq only to come up empty-handed. The general quality of U.S. intelligence, as the UN inspectors have put it privately, is "garbage."

For a variety of reasons related to post-war planning and Bush's seeming indifference about tearing down international institutions in order to get his way, I've been on the fence about war with Iraq for several weeks now. Basically, I figured that all it would take is one more thing to send me into the anti-war camp, and I think this is it. If we're planning to start a war based on intelligence from the same guys who made this mistake, it's time to take a deep breath and back off.

I still believe strongly that we need a tough-minded long-term policy aimed at eradicating terrorism and modernizing the Arab world (among others) and that this policy should include the use of force where necessary but not this time. This is the gang that couldn't shoot straight.

UPDATE: It's impossible for a single column to cover all the bases, but this Newsweek piece by Jonathan Alter does a fairly good job of describing Bush's general incompetence in making the case for war over the past nine months. He needs to start over.

Kevin Drum 12:13 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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